Kano, Nigeria | AFP | Thousands of Nigerians uprooted from their homes by the Boko Haram insurgency hit the streets of Maiduguri Sunday in protest at food shortages and poor conditions in their refugee camp, demanding they be allowed to go home.
More than 2.6 million people have been displaced by the deadly violence in northeastern Nigeria that erupted eight years ago, forcing them into camps and host communities.
Around 3,000 people living in Dalori camp joined the protest in Maiduguri, the epicentre of the insurgency, denouncing food and water shortages as well as “appalling” living conditions.
The protesters, from Borno state’s second largest town Bama, urged the authorities to allow them to return home and rebuild their shattered lives.
“We are protesting to demand our right to return to our homes in Bama because of the appalling conditions in the camp,” Babagana Mohammed told AFP.
“We have no food, no water and our children don’t go to school,” said the 32-year-old father of five.
Mohammed also said he wondered why those displaced from other towns, such as Gwoza, Dikwa and Gamboru, were allowed to return home.
– ‘Want to go home’ –
But police and the military blocked them from heading to the governor’s office.
“All we ask for is to be allowed to return to Bama,” protester Kulo Gana said.
“We need to go back and rebuild our homes, grow our food because we are tired of living in Maiduguri in abject poverty and untold suffering,” Gana said.
“We have all it takes to start a new life back home,” said another protester Mohammed Kassim.
Bama was home to 270,000 residents and a major trading hub on the road to Cameroon before it was captured by Boko Haram in September 2014.
When it was retaken by the Nigerian military in March last year, 85 percent of the town had been destroyed by the jihadists.
Borno state officials said it would require 40 billion naira (94 million euros, $111 million) to rebuild the town, a staggering amount in the impoverished region.
– Cholera outbreak –
Funding shortages have forced aid agencies to scale back their operations in the region, compounding the dire humanitarian situation with more than five million people under threat of hunger and possible famine.
A cholera outbreak has also ravaged the camps, where 44 people have died over the past month.
The United Nations said it would need around $10 million to contain the outbreak and improve the supply of clean water and sanitation to the camps.
The lack of food forced some to return home at the start of the rainy season to grow crops after losing three seasons in a row.
But they have come under increasing attack by Boko Haram fighters, who kill and abduct them from their farms.
Mohammed seemed undeterred by the threat of attacks, and insisted he be allowed to go home.
“The suffering is too much and it is better to return home, repair our homes and our lives and fight off Boko Haram,” he said.